John C Adams Reviews the 'Trebizon' Series by Anne Digby
Second Term At Trebizon and The Ghostly Term At Trebizon by Anne Digby
(Grafton, 1980 and Puffin 1990)
In today's 'Why Not Wednesday?' post, I'm going to review two books from Anne Digby's popular Trebizon boarding school series, which ran from 1978 to 1994.
Rebecca Mason unexpectedly exchanged her comprehensive school education for boarding school down in Cornwall in the opening book in the series when her father started working out in Saudi Arabia. By the time 'Second Term At Trebizon' opens, she's learnt to fit right in. She and her friends Tish and Sue are aged twelve to thirteen at this point, and are pretty straitlaced, so nothing matters more than making it onto the hockey team or getting an article published in the school paper.
When they return to school after Christmas, Tish is behaving very oddly and this puts her into conflict with Sue, who isn't that interested in becoming a music scholar and can't understand the usually easygoing Tish's obsession with her getting the scholarship to the exclusion of all else. The mystery is finally solved, but it speaks volumes about the successful character building that has taken place at her school that Tish is resilient enough to withstand the criticism and negativity for so long in the interest of selflessly putting her friend first. Tish is more full of personality than Rebecca, the main point-of-view character, who is likeable but who can also be a tad bland at times.
By the time 'The Ghostly Term at Trebizon' was published in 1990, Rebecca and her friends were in the Fifth Form and therefore under pressure with their GCSE exams. The books are spread over a much longer publishing schedule than the actual dramatic time of five years, so I really felt the change from the mid 1970s through to the beginning of the 1990s. In between, Rebecca and her friends have become interested in boys from the local boarding school Garth College and experienced a variety of mild romantic disappointments along the way. It's all thoroughly wholesome stuff, pitched just right for a young audience. By the time that they are taking their GCSEs, most of the silliness over boys has worn off and doing well in exams and getting on all the sports teams are again the order of the day.
The Trebizon series retains all that is best about more traditional boarding school fiction, most of all the strong loyalty between the girls, their confidence and self reliance, growing leadership abilities, and an honour code that forms their moral compass. However, the series has a more modern, flexible feel than traditional boarding school fiction from the likes of say Angela Brazil, Elinor Brent-Dyer and Enid Blyton. Rebecca retains friendships from her comprehensive school days and moves easily within a variety of social environments. She values people for who they are and how they behave, rather than for the sort of background into which they happen to have been born.
Since the vast majority of its target audience would not in fact be at boarding school, this subgenre of children's fiction has been distinguished by a strongly aspirational feel since its emergence in Victorian times. 'Trebizon' exemplifies this every bit as much as most other series, but the reader is also more likely to find relatable characters from their own background than in more traditional stories. Rebecca's father's commercial success enables him to afford a luxury education for his daughter. Other pupils have parents with relatively new business interests that have prospered, such as the Hodges' road haulage firm and the Murdochs' chemical business, enabling them to afford such an expensive school. Rebecca and her friends work hard, stick together and strive for excellence on the sporting field, determined to be judged objectively whether in external exams or, in Rebecca's case, at the Eastbourne junior tennis tournament. Earlier boarding school series were less subtle in their attempts to disseminate the values of the boarding school system to a wider audience, however Anne Digby's Trebizon series manages to portray the character building that remains the very essence of the boarding-school elite in a more relaxed way better suited to a late-twentieth-century readership.
I still enjoy reading these books from my childhood, and I recently had to track down several of the titles in the series after they became lost in my seventeen-year-old daughter's room after mysteriously disappearing from my own bookshelves.
Thank you so much for reading my 'Why Not Wednesday' post. I'll be posting again on Friday. In the meantime why not share your thoughts on books from your childhood you enjoyed in the comments section below?
Many thanks to photographers Stephen J Sullivan, Humberto Ortega and MS for providing the images for this blogpost via freeimages.com